Blauer - Tactical Clothing & Equipment

"Stories in the Rafters" - By Lt. Tim Cotton

She has been after me for twenty years to finish the ceiling at the cabin in the woods.

I am a master of redirection. “There are so many other things to do,” I say. “I need to jack up that post under the porch.” She moves on, but she will bring it up again.

She spends far less time here than I do, even though the place had been in her family for well over 80 years. We ended up with the remnants of the old cottage after the years of nor’easters, red squirrel reunions, heavy winter snows, neglect, and slowly sinking cedar posts forced our hand to tear it down. I wish we could have saved it, but the decision was based on common sense and not our heart’s desire.

Going against conventional wisdom - we built smaller. There are days when I wish we had built much bigger, but our core family-unit is small. We are not much for company. I never wanted it to be my home, just a camp in the woods, near the lake, and the loons. It is situated somewhere between the Atlantic ocean and the pine trees - in the state I hope I never have to leave.

Building a cabin in stages is typically done to spread the costs out over a long time. Banks are good for some things, but it’s better to avoid their involvement. Thus, the reason the ceiling is open to the floor of the loft above me.

Bare rafters are easier to hang wicker baskets and ancient oil lamps. This is the point of contention. She sees unfinished business, I see the stages in which I built the place.

Looking up from the couch - incidentally the first piece of furniture we ever purchased brand new about 30 years ago - I can see the faded date-stamps on the lumber that is the floor of the loft; this should tell you that I am not much for painting either.

Over the kitchen, I see the year 1997. My son was one. We had no indoor plumbing, carried water from the lake to wash dishes and ourselves. The outdoor privy was only about a 100 foot hike up into the birch and beech trees. She demanded some kind of indoor bathroom.

My theory was that our son needed to know the ins and outs of the outhouse. She agreed. Home was the place for the amenities. Camp was a place to rough it a little bit.

Life shouldn’t always be as easy flicking the chrome handle on a tank of water when you want to rid yourself of something. You’ll appreciate it more when you have been forced to keep one hand free to swat mosquitos. It also proves you don’t really always need to be holding your smartphone, but if you are holding it - keep a firm grip on it. No one wants the chore of retrieval from the dark cavern beneath you.

I added on to the loft in 2004, the flooring can attest to that. If you look up, like I am doing now, you can see the faded, black ink-stamped face of the lumber. We needed a bigger loft for storage and another bed in case company showed up. It didn’t - but we put an indoor shower and tiny washroom in at that time. I installed a composting toilet for those who felt that running out in the middle of the night was inconvenient.

We built a ladder to access the loft, it pivots down from the rafters when you need it.

She fell out of the loft the next summer. My son and I had gone to explore on the ATV, when we returned she had regained consciousness. It was not a good day for an 8-year-old boy to find his mother in that condition. I remember telling the E.R. Doc that she fell. He didn’t believe me. They spoke to my son to make sure that all the stories matched. Her elbow was broken, her face fractured, and she stopped going into the loft even after she healed.

In 2007, I added the final sheets of plywood to complete the floor. There was no more loft to fall from.

I remember looking down on my 11-year old son and his mother as they played a game of Trouble while I straddled the rafters moving the sheets of plywood into their final resting place. Before I nailed the last one down, we all reminisced about the day she fell. The pop-pop-pop of the Trouble game dice-bubble was drowned out by my hammer pounding in the last few nails. It was not lost on me that the name of the game was exactly how I felt about not finishing the floor sooner…troubled.

My son is 22 now. He comes to camp, but he doesn’t come with me as much anymore -except on Father’s Day - it’s a tradition.

He starts his career with a new police agency in the middle of next month, he will spend the better part of the next year at the police academy.

It seems that it was just a few sheets of plywood ago that he was handing me nails and asking if we could just go fishing.

I think I will wait a little longer to hang the ceiling, I like waking up to the stories which are held in the rafters.

And that’s the view from the dooryard.

Keep your hands to yourself, leave other people’s things alone, and be kind to one another.

Lt. Tim Cotton (cottonblend at blauer dot com) 

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